THE LIFE AND CHESS OF PAUL MORPHY                                                                                                                                                                         First American Chess Congress


The First American Chess Congress of 1857


 The congress consisted of three separate tournaments: the Grand Tournament, the Minor Tournament and the Problem Tournament. note 7

On the evening before the tournament - October 5 - the club was open for a casual meeting of the players note 8   and others interested in the tournament. Many off-hand games were played. Morphy engaged Frederick Perrin, the secretary of the New York Club, in two games. Morphy won the first, but as the second game began, Charles Stanley entered the club and Perrin graciously deferred to Stanley allowing him to play Morphy.

Frederick Edges wrote:

Who that was present that evening  does not remember Paul Morphy's first appearance at the New York City Chess Club?
The secretary, Mr. Frederick Perrin, valorously offered to be his first antagonist, and presented about the same resistance as a mosquito to an avalanche. Then who should enter the room but the warrior, Stanley... Loud cries were made for Stanley! Stanley! and Mr. Perrin [now on the second game] resigned his seat to the newcomer, in deference to so general a request. Thus commenced a contest, or rather a succession of contests, in which Stanley was indeed astonished. "Mate" followed upon "Mate", until he arose from his chair in bewildered defeat.

Stanley lost four games in a row.

The Chess Monthly wrote in the December issue:

...on the evening of his [Morphy's] arrival all doubts were removed in the minds of those who witnessed his passage-at-arms with Mr. Stanley and Mr. Perrin at the rooms of the New York Club, and the first prize was universally conceded to him, even before the entries for the Grand Tournament had been completed.


According to the Prospectus, the contestants were to meet Monday, October 5, at 3:00 p.m. where they would be paired of by lot. The eight players who won three out of five games would proceed to the next phase, the losers would drop out. The eight winners would be paired off, then the four winners. The two who won the final phase would play a match to determine first and second place, while the two who lost would play a match to determine third and fourth place. However, at the meeting on Monday, there was some debate about whether this was a desirable format. It was finally agreed to let the stated format stand and the lottery would take place on Tuesday, October 6.

On October 6, at 11:00 a.m. the participants met at the Descombes Rooms at 764 Broadway between 8th and 9th Streets (which was later the site of Wanamaker's Dept. Store until it, in turn, was divided into separate units). The congress was originally slated to be held at the New York Chess Club, but it proved too small.

The Lottery  Eight white and eight yellow stubs were numbered 1 through 8 and placed in a box. The white ticket had "Choice of Chessmen and first move" written on it. Whoever chose #1 white would play whoever chose #1 yellow. Whoever picked a white stub had the choice of color and the first move.

The congress ran through November 10 (with an awards ceremony on November 11) the results of the congress are as follows:

Results for The First American Chess Congress of 1857 +  -  = )


Morphy - Meek

Lichtenhein - Perrin
Paulsen - Montgomery
Marache - Raphael
Morphy - Lichtenhein
Paulsen - Raphael

Morphy - Paulsen

Lichtenhein - Raphael

1st  Morphy  -  2nd  Paulsen  -  3rd  Lichtenhein  -  4th  Raphael


After the first round, Morphy and Paulsen both had some time to spare waiting for the others to finish. Paulsen announced that on Saturday, October 10, he would give a four board blindfold exhibition. He invited Morphy to take on of the boards, which Morphy accepted on the condition that he, too, play blindfold.  C.H. Shultz, W.J.A. Fuller and Denis Julien played the other three boards. The result was +2-1=1, The loss was against Morphy and the draw was against Julien.

This Denis Julien was also the proprietor of the St. Denis Hotel. On the following Saturday, October 17, the entire Congress was treated to dinner at Mr. Denis' hotel. The dinner carried a chess theme and named it's bill of fare after players. Huge cakes in the shapes of chessboards, as well as kings, queens and knights in jelly and  bishops rooks and pawns in cream adorned the tables. There were statues of Benjamin Franklin carved out of ice. and a confectionary castle to Ca´ssa and a monument to Philidor. As the note to the Congress explained, "It's needless to state how much better the C˘telettes d'Angeau Ó la Bilguer tasted than simple lambchops."

Hotel St. Denis was at Broadway and 11th Street, opposite Grace Church.

The final match came down to, undoubtedly,  the two best players: Morphy and Paulsen. Curiously they had both drawn one game apiece in the last round.

Paulsen was a notoriously slow player. Morphy, who was an unnaturally quick player found this almost unbearable and many attribute one of the draws and the single loss of a game by Morphy in this match to that fact.

Fiske writing to George Allen November 8, 1857

"Nothing can be more pleasing or graceful than the elegance of his [Morphy's] play - I mean his manner of touching the pieces and moving them and so forth. I have never seen him impatient but once. In his second game with Paulsen, after the German had taken repeatedly thirty, forty-five and fifty minutes (and in some instances over one hour) upon his moves, Morphy became so thoroughly worn out that in his haste he made what should have been his second move first and was only able to draw a won game (a splendid piece of chess that it had been up to that moment). He was so depressed at his failure to score so fine a game (although no one but me knew the effect upon his mind) that he played weakly in the two following contests and lost one of them."

Johann Jacob L÷wenthal stated (concerning black's 23rd move in the second game):

"A most unfortunate slip. As soon as the second player [Morphy] had touched the queen, he remarked that had he taken the knight the contest should not have been prolonged a dozen moves. And that he had the winning combination in his mind, he proved... after the close of the game." 

Morphy's winning line starting after Paulsen's 23. f3
(In the actual game, Morphy touched the Queen                                                                           Actual game
  and having to move it, played 23...Qg6+)                                                               Paulsen vs. Morphy 4th round, 2nd game


Before the 6th game, the game involving Morphy's most famous queen sacrifice, Morphy and Fuller were dining together and Fuller recounted:

"...His patience was worn out by the great length of time Paulsen took for each move. His usually equable temper was so disturbed, that he clenched his fists and said, "Paulsen shall never win another game from me while he lives." and he never did."


Morphy's Congress games:

At the award ceremony on November11, Morphy, having requested that he not receive any monetary prize if he won, was presented with a silver serving set, note 9  consisting of a pitcher, four goblets and a salver in lieu of the original $300.


After the tournament Morphy played many casual games, refusing no one who asked to play, but he refused to play for for stakes which "pleased them the more."

A match was arranged between Charles Stanley and Morphy at odds of pawn and move and with stakes set at $100 a side. The score was +4 =1  in favor of Morphy, but even the drawn game was due to a hasty move by Morphy. According to Fiske, writing to George Allen:

"Morphy began his match at Pawn & Move with Stanley last evening. With a forced mate in five moves, he played too hastily and only drew the game."


In a second letter to Prof. Allen, Fiske wrote:

 "The score standing Stanley none, Morphy four and one drawn game (drawn through Morphy's carelessness) Stanley resigned the match. Loving Morphy as I do, it's a pleasant thing for me to tell you that, before leaving New York, he sent the stakes, accompanied by a kind note, to Mrs. Stanley, who, poor lady, sadly needs them. Stanley would have drunk it all up, but now his wife and children will be benefited by the money. When the world shall have lost the glorious Paul (which, God send, may not happen for half a century) and someone shall write his biography, I hope this, and other incidents I wrote of, will find a place in the narrative. They will show that his heart is as great as his intellect is astute. But he will not let me speak of them now.

Mrs. Stanley was pregnant at the time and when the baby girl was born in December, she named her Pauline, after Paul Morphy.


Morphy left New York on December 17 and reached New Orleans just before the New Year.

While in New York, Morphy a known total of 94 even games (+85 -4 =8); 159 games at various odds (+104 -36 =19); 3 blindfold games (+2 =1) and 1 consultation game [Morphy vs. Fiske-Fuller-Perrin] (-1)


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